Review by Hannah Fredriksson
This season of Ballet at the Quarry brings us four wonderful performances that vary from poignant to comical, taking viewers on an exploration of love and identity through the ever-masterful discipline of ballet.
Tonight we are treated to the world premiere of Open Heart Story; an exploration of “the life-giving muscle we often forget about until it fails us” from Australian choreographer Alice Topp. The performance reads like an anthology series of moments that leave their indelible mark on your heart in one way or another. Topp notes that these stories are inspired by the true experiences from friends who have endured their own battles of the heart.
At the beginning of this performance, a red runway highlights the centre of the stage and the dancers line the rear, hinting at all the stories that will unfold. At first Glenda Garcia Gomez ventures down this runway solo, with a red rose held in her lips as a symbol of the delicate fragility of the heart. Her performance is evocative of the naivety of first love.
The second segment involves Alexa Tuzil and Ludovico Di Ubaldo mirroring each other as they circle the stage, reminiscent of the early days of a relationship where you focus on the remarkable likeness of each other, feeling truly seen.
At one point Julio Blanes stands in the centre of the red runway and the remaining dancers pick up the edges of the material and rotate it so the entire runway now runs diagonally across the stage, and then they literally pull it out from under his feet - illustrating the feeling of being at the mercy of what’s going on around you, and having the wind taken out of you after an unexpected heartbreak.
This performance exhibits a beautiful use of lighting, particularly as a bright rays emerge atop the rear wall of the stage area like a sun breaking over the horizon, equally ominous and hopeful. Open Heart Story succeeds in taking viewers on a sincere journey across the different vulnerabilities of the heart, and the rollercoaster of emotions that accompany the highs and lows of love.
The next performance is the Australian premiere of the duet Verses choreographed by Robert Bondara. The succinct work evokes the feeling of longing and sorrow that accompanies losing someone extremely significant to you. Dancers Kiki Saito and Juan Carlos Osma exhibit a palpable passion and desperation, evoking the desire to hold tightly to someone you can’t bear to be without.
Persona [Fratres] is another Australian premiere for choreographer Robert Bondara. Persona is performed by a Trio but plays out like a duet, with the two male performers almost literally sharing the same skin.
The narrative begins with a tumultuous relationship between the female and male characters, performed by Alexa Tuzil and Jack Whiter. Despite tender moments of intimacy, it appears the woman becomes increasingly frustrated with the man, at one point she takes him in a headlock and marches him across the stage, which is at odds with the traditional romantic lightness of ballet as an artform, highlighting that their relationship is at a point of desperation. Eventually it appears she has given up her efforts to mold him, and they come to an impasse with her head resting on his chest. At this point Ludovico Di Ubaldo appears behind Whiter, dressed identically - the effect is stunning as there appears to be a visual echo of the man. Then they switch places; Di Ubaldo pushes himself between Tuzil and Whiter, the latter of which falls back to the ground with his feet still aligned to Di Ubaldo’s, like Peter Pan’s disobedient shadow. This represents a turning point for the male character - it is certainly still the same person, but there is a duality to them, that is truly realised towards the end of the performance when they slide into the same t-shirt as two halves of the same whole.
This work is simple yet innovative, and to me it elicited a notion of the polarity of abusive relationships; how often an abuser flips back and forth between being kind and caring versus cruel and gaslighting, which can leave victims feeling confused and uncertain. It left me feeling a bit sombre and pensive - as great works of art often do.
Finally we have the Australian premiere of the whimsical IN Cognito by Helen Pickett. Pickett notes that the title is based on Tom Robbins’ novels - despite sharing a name with Villa Incognito, the theme of covertly blending-in is present throughout his works. Pickett was drawn to the theme due to the fascinating dichotomy of performance; on one hand performers are required to assume a character and channel their idiosyncrasies, yet simultaneously they must be vulnerable and bare their soul before an audience. There is a fine line between the two and the boundaries are often blurred. At one point does the individual become fused with the character?
This work has a distinct retro style to it that is reminiscent of an office environment, with grey sofas being wheeled in and out of each side of the stage to redefine the space as required. The recurring motif of the ‘mobile shrubbery’ trope is an immediate signal that this work is as fun as it is impressive. At times the physicality is simply kinetic as the choreography weaves comically with the music.
Ballet at the Quarry continues to push boundaries and delight audiences in the immersive surrounds of the Quarry Amphitheatre. Pack a picnic (or order one at the kiosk) and enjoy the performers warming up on the stage from 7, prior to the performance at 8. It’s on five nights a week until March 11, so you have no excuse to miss this opportunity to enjoy the pure, emotive talent of West Australian Ballet under the stars.
Image Credit: Bradbury Photography